Belgian Defence Minister Steven Vandeput. File photo: Eric Lalmand/Getty
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iraqi government blocked a visit by Belgium’s defence minister to his country’s troops in the Kurdistan Region last year, the KRG's representative in Europe has revealed.
"The Belgian Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput was set to visit Baghdad and Erbil to check on Belgian soldiers stationed in the two places, but the Iraqi government would not consent to him visiting the KRG, so the minister cancelled his visit to Iraq," Delavar Ajgeiy told Rudaw on Friday.
Belgium, consequently, summoned the Iraqi ambassador to explain the matter, Ajgeiy stated.
Belgium is a member of the global anti-ISIS coalition and has soldiers in the Kurdistan Region, training Peshmerga forces.
This is at least the second time in three months that Baghdad has prevented foreign officials visiting Erbil.
Last November, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel cancelled his visit to Baghdad and Erbil after he was prevented
from adding a stop in the Kurdistan Region capital.
Relations between Erbil and Baghdad have soured following Kurdistan’s vote for independence in September. The Iraqi government has rejected the result and responded with measures aimed at asserting federal control over the autonomous Region, like closing the airports to international travel and taking control of the disputed areas.
Like many travelers, KRG officials, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, have circumvented the flight ban by going overland to Turkey and from there flying internationally rather than transiting through Baghdad.